Lowly T'Wolves Put Bite Into Nuggets
Then he overreacted.
But that's quite understandable. Two weeks earlier, the Denver Nuggets had walloped the Los Angeles Lakers at home, and point guard Chauncey Billups was saying his Nuggets are definitely an elite team.
Sunday night, though, they looked more asleep than elite. The Nuggets (12-5), who had won 17 straight regular-season games at the Pepsi Center, were stunned 106-100 by Minnesota (2-15), which had lost 15 straight. It's got to be one of the biggest regular-season upsets in recent NBA history.
Karl, Denver's coach, started his postgame press conference relatively calm, saying he wouldn't "overreact to a loss.'' By the end, though, he got heated.
"The play-hard thing is driving me crazy,'' Karl said. "Tell me my play-hard team. Tell me the five guys I put out there on the court to play hard every possession. Tell me it. I had it last year. I had a play-hard team last year. I don't have a play-hard team this year. And it's making me very angry.''
Karl stormed out quickly after that. So, if anybody had any names for Karl's suggestion box, it was too late.
The word seems to be getting around that maybe the Nuggets don't have a play-hard team. After their shocking win, Timberwolves players were talking about how the Nuggets are known for letting teams get back into games.
Keep in mind these comments were coming from a team that hadn't won since Oct. 28. And that was a 95-93 defeat of New Jersey (0-17), the NBA's only outfit that is more lowly.
"Denver is a type of team that will let you back into the ballgame, and they did,'' said center Al Jefferson.
"They're known as a team that will relax sometimes,'' said forward Damien Wilkins (No. 3, right). "They did just that. They relaxed just enough and we played hard enough.''
Karl could see it coming. The Nuggets had looked spotty in their previous three games against bottom feeders New Jersey, Minnesota and New York, but were able to hold on and win, so few lessons were learned.
It all unraveled in the third quarter following a first half in which the Nuggets led by as many as 17 points before heading into the locker room with a comfortable 64-50 lead. The Timberwolves outscored Denver by a stunning 31-12 margin in the quarter to take an 81-76 lead.
"We got what we deserved,'' said Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. "That team ain't going to stop playing if they lost 15 straight. They're a professional basketball team. ... They ain't going to take the game off the schedule. They came in and they did what they had to do and they got a win. We should be embarrassed by it. There's no other words to put to it, bottom line.''
Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who scored a game-high 32 points, said the loss "will teach us a lesson.'' He called it the biggest upset he's experienced in his seven NBA seasons.
"We didn't respect them enough to come out and try to put them away,'' Billups said of the second half.
That's OK. The young Timberwolves aren't used to getting any respect. Usually, though, they still can't find a way to win.
But not Sunday. Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis made a savvy move, inserting Wilkins into the lineup at forward and sending Ryan Hollins to the bench because he believed Wilkins and forward Ryan Gomes would better match up with Denver counterparts Anthony and Martin.
All Wilkins did was total 15 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. All Gomes did was score a team-high 27 points.
And all the Timberwolves did after the game, with apologies to Minneapolis native Prince, was party like it was 2009.
"We came into the locker room and celebrated like we won the championship,'' said guard Jonny Flynn. "Everybody was hugging each other.''
Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis, who won four rings as a Lakers player in the 1980s and was a part of four more titles this decade as a Lakers front-office man and assistant coach, was a bit more restrained.
Rambis, whose team was starting to get within sniffing distance of the NBA single-season losing streak of 23, did call it a "big win for us.'' But he didn't seem to think much of a blow was inflicted upon the Nuggets, whose Northwest Division lead over Minnesota was cut to 10 games.
"In the grand scheme of things, in their long season, where they're going as a playoff team, it's just one tiny little drop in an ocean for them,'' Rambis said.
Don't tell that to Karl. With the holidays approaching, the loss was like a lump of coal in his stocking.
"We mess around with the game,'' Karl said. "My Christmas wish, and I pray to the basketball gods every night, is we play hard and pass the ball.''
Additional prayer evidently is needed.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @christomasson